The U.S. Department of Defense said Friday that service members discharged for refusal to comply with the COVID vaccine requirement might receive back pay after Pentagon officials repealed the mandate last week.
Pentagon officials ended the coronavirus vaccine mandate for the U.S. Military, which was instituted in August 2021, after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) forced an end to the program after Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in December.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in a memo on Tuesday that officials had formally rescinded the vaccine mandate for the U.S. Military and the National Guard, which Politico reported “opened the door to reinstating troops” who believe they were wrongfully discharged.
However, officials still have not decided whether such service members would receive back pay.
“The Department is still exploring this and will provide its views on legislation of this nature at the appropriate time and through the appropriate process,” Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz told the news outlet in a Friday email.
At the Biden administration’s direction, the Defense Department discharged more than 8,400 troops from the military, including some 3,300 Marines, 1,800 soldiers, 1,800 sailors, and 900 airmen that decided to forego taking the vaccine.
A federal judge wrote in December that thousands of other troops sought medical and religious exemptions.
Still, Secretary Austin said in the memo that more than two million service members and about 96% of active duty and reserve forces had been fully vaccinated.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby asserted that President Joe Biden and Austin opposed repealing the Defense Department’s vaccine mandate.
“Secretary Austin’s been very clear that he opposes the repeal of the vaccine mandate, and the president actually concurs with the secretary of defense,” Kirby stated, adding that Biden “continues to believe that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19 . . . Vaccines are saving lives including our men and women in uniform.”
President Biden, however, eventually signed the bill after it made its way through Congress.
Former Vice President Mike Pence told The Hill last week after the Pentagon rescinded the mandate that Biden should reinstate the discharged troops with back pay, calling the initial decision to force service members to take the shot “unconscionable.”
“I think now that Secretary Austin has implemented what Congress passed into law, lifting the vaccine mandate on members of our armed forces, now I’m calling on the Biden administration and the Pentagon to reinstate every man and woman that was discharged from our armed forces because they refused to take the vaccine, and give them 100 percent back pay for the time after they were discharged,” Pence said.
Pence, who led the White House COVID task force during the Trump administration and supported Operation Warp Speed, which developed the vaccine years ahead of schedule, said the administration never supported mandating the shot, arguing such requirements contributed to why many Americans were skeptical about getting vaccinated.
“And I understand the concern that people in this country have about the vaccines, but I really believe it ultimately finds its origins in the fact that a vaccine mandate came along and people were required to take it.”